Review: Kaunas String Quartet, St Mary de Lode Church, Gloucester
GLOUCESTER Music Society has an enviable and commendable record as sponsors of new music and musicians. In recent seasons, it has commissioned new compositions, given first performances and provided a showcase for young and up-and-coming performing talents.
Some of these have been home grown, but the Society casts its net wide - in this case, as far as the Baltic. The Kaunas Quartet, who hail from Lithuania, were making only their second appearance in Britain.
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They take their name from the second city, an important centre for the country's academic and cultural life. On the evidence of this concert, they are not content to keep mining the same seams: one, perhaps two, of their chosen works has surely never been played here before.
The Quartet is a smoothly blended tightly cohesive unit. They brought music from their homeland. In Mikalojus Konstantinas Ciurlionis, the arts of painting and music are very intimately allied.
Many of his paintings, most of which are housed in the National Art Museum at Kaunas, bear titles such as 'sonata', and 'fugue'. Perhaps of greater interest to the musician, Ciurlionis was a synesthete – he perceived colours and music simultaneously.
Grieg failed to complete his Second Quartet and it is rarely programmed. Beautifully laid out for the four instruments, it was a revelatory, its folk elements transmuted into compelling art. The powerful, incisive account created a desire to hear it again soon.
Ciurlionis had a profound influence on Lithuanian culture. Pronunciation difficulties apart, his name might be better known had he not died of pneumonia at the age of 35.
His Quartet in C minor dates from 1901. No colours, except perhaps purple, came to mind: instead, there were arresting contrasts, striking string textures and rhythmic felicities. The Quartet evidently has this music in their blood – their committed advocacy suggested that further hearings would prove rewarding.
Rooted in Schubert song, the A minor Quartet is the least anguished of Schubert's late chamber music. Its first two movements sometimes have an almost sunny disposition that was reflected in a balmy performance, the first violin on occasion soaring to the blue yonder.
For the third movement, the Quartet darkened the mood with their evocative excursion into the cafes of late evening Vienna. They then sailed through the technical demands of the last movement with apparent ease.